The NBA season is into its second half, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.
1) Damian Lillard puts up an MVP-like 50 on Pelicans
The Portland Trail Blazers are one of the “luckiest” teams in the NBA — they have a -0.5 net rating this season (due largely to their 29th ranked defense). With that rating they should have a 19-20 record and be scrambling to make the play-in games in the West.
Instead, the Trail Blazers are 23-16 and sitting fifth in the conference.
Damian Lillard is the difference — he is playing at an MVP level.
That was on display Tuesday. It’s not just that he dropped a 50-spot on New Orleans, although he did that — and on just 20 shot attempts.
It’s that Portland as a team has taken on Lillard’s clutch genes — it came back from 17 down with 6 minutes left to get the win against New Orleans. The Trail Blazers ended the game on a 25-7 run, and Lillard either scored or assisted on 18 of those — plus he hit the game-winning free throws with 1.2 seconds left.
The Pelicans didn’t like the call that gave Lillard the chance for the win, but they had their own chances and didn’t grab them. Brandon Ingram went to the free throw line for two with New Orleans up 3 and just 7.2 seconds left, but he missed both. That opened the door. Rather than let Lillard tie the game with a ridiculous three, New Orleans fouled him with 5.2 seconds left, and Lillard hit his shots, making it a one-point game. All New Orleans had to do was inbound the ball and hit their free throws, but Nickeil Alexander-Walker fumbled the inbound pass, the Blazers got the ball back and had a chance. That’s when Lillard drew the foul on Eric Bledsoe. After his free throws Lonzo Ball — who had 17 assists on the night — made a brilliant length-of-the-court pass to Zion Williamson, who got off a quality shot, but it bounced off the rim and out. Portland won.
Portland also got CJ McCollum back for the first time in two months; he has recovered from his foot injury.
With McCollum and, in a couple of weeks, Jusuf Nurkic back in the lineup, Portland may be able to hold on to a spot in the top six in the West and avoid the play-in games altogether. Which would be lucky.
2) Utah execution, three-point shooting too much for Boston
Brad Stevens didn’t have much trouble explaining the difference between Utah as the top seed in the West and the Celtics, who are struggling to stay above .500 and out of the East’s play-in games.
"There's a reason why the rest of us don't have [the Jazz's] record…we don't make people pay as much as they make everyone else pay"
Brad Stevens on the Jazz making the Celtics pay for their mistakes pic.twitter.com/h6NPeXNtA9
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) March 17, 2021
Utah’s execution had it putting up 40 points in the fourth and pulling away from Boston for the win. Donovan Mitchel had 21 points, but the Jazz move the ball beautifully and find the open man — especially at the arc. Utah had 19 threes in the game. Jordan Clarkson added 20 for the Jazz.
Brad Stevens may aspire to having his Celtics play unselfishly like the Jazz, but Tuesday was a reminder of how far they have to go.
3) Zach LaVine scores 40 — in three quarters
Zach LaVine can flat out get buckets.
He put on a show as the Bulls handled the Thunder Tuesday, putting up 40 points and only needing three quarters to do it.
LaVine now has a dozen 40 point games, third on the all-time Bulls list and one back of Bob Love. Just rack up 153 more and he can tie Michael Jordan.